The celebration of an event that wasn’t always possible is particularly meaningful, moving, and memorable. Such is the case for the many weddings that are now, thankfully, legally taking place in Pennsylvania. I’m still reveling in the joyfulness and affirmation of the same-sex wedding I attended on Aug. 31, 2014…my son, Scott’s.
Knowing the world is not always a friendly place for those who love a little differently, I was plagued with questions: Would my son ever know the pleasure of loving and being loved–openly? And, if he were fortunate enough to find a worthy partner, would this couple ever know the blessing of acceptance and celebration that their siblings enjoyed? My son had the good fortune to meet David, a truly extraordinary man living in New York City, through JDate. When I had the pleasure of meeting David, the answers to years of unspoken questions started coming. It was clear from the beginning Scott and David were a perfect fit. But would the relatives, especially the more observant ones, join me in supporting this relationship? And, when Scott and David started talking seriously about a permanent relationship, despite the fact that same-‐sex marriage was still illegal in Pennsylvania, I questioned if all of our family and friends would want to participate in their nuptials, especially the more observant ones.
Their idea included a civil ceremony in New York and a Jewish ceremony and reception in Philadelphia the following weekend. Though many gay couples and their families think small, I knew that the words “small wedding” were not in my son’s vocabulary. With this in mind, I prayed very hard that the family’s reaction to Scott and David’s engagement would be favorable. When we heard nothing but congratulations, we knew they had a green light to start their guest list, which ended up including 260 family and friends.
After settling on the location and the date, the next mission was to find a Conservative rabbi who would officiate such a wedding. Their first choice was Rabbi Neil Cooper of Wynnewood’s Temple Beth Hillel-‐Beth El. It was Rabbi Cooper’s sermon about the need for inclusiveness in our synagogues–including same sex-partnerships–that he had delivered at a High Holiday service two years earlier that gave my son and his fiancé the inspiration and courage to contemplate marriage.
Though Rabbi Cooper couldn’t officiate at the wedding due to another commitment, he found a way to give his, and the synagogue’s, stamp of approval: an aufruf. The week before the wedding, Scott, David, my older son, and I were given honors at the bimah (aliyahs) where Rabbi Cooper spoke about their upcoming marriage and gave them his blessing. How wonderful it was to know that many more people than I had imagined were progressive, open-‐minded, and welcoming. We came to realize this kind of progressiveness was, fortunately, spreading throughout the Jewish community.
After finding out that Rabbi Cooper was unable to preside at their wedding, Scott contacted Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, a school he attended, and asked for a recommendation. The headmaster and Jewish Studies Department couldn’t have been more helpful. As it turned out, Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Director of Jewish Studies at Barrack, enthusiastically offered to marry them.
Once Scott and David had a rabbi on board, the reality of achieving something almost unheard of until recently was now in their grasp. With this in mind, they quickly started doing what most engaged couples do: planning, researching, and visiting vendors. Realizing they were pioneers in the Philadelphia area and that area vendors were relatively new to “catering ” to two men–they interviewed multiple vendors for every aspect of their wedding (I stopped counting after they visited their eighth florist). Some might have thought they were being too selective, even too critical. But, I came to understand that they needed to assemble a team who could strike the right balance between a traditional black tie wedding and one suited to two men. More than once they had to remind the vendors that they were not looking to reenact a scene from Liberace’s biopic “Behind the Candelabra.”
The tone was set with their save the date card–a humorous photo of the two grooms in tuxedos, one carrying the other across the threshold. The dominant responses were “Can’t wait!” and “Mazel Tov!” When the actual invitation finally went out several months later, we wondered how many congratulations would translate into a “Save the Last Dance for Me” response on the RSVP card. It’s one thing for people who are totally unaccustomed to same-sex marriages to say they are happy for friends, relatives, and co-workers who’ve found love; it’s another to come to a wedding where they are exposed to modifications in rituals they aren’t fully prepared to witness.
Finally, the wedding weekend arrived. It would be disingenuous to say that we all weren’t a bit nervous. But, as soon as the evening’s events started, we knew we were in for a night that would surpass our wildest dreams
It was more than just another wedding; it was a victory celebration! Since PA Governor Corbett declined to appeal Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage decision only three months earlier, this was a groundbreaker. As Rabbi Levingston announced at the end of the ceremony, Scott and David’s wedding was the first legal same-sex wedding at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia.
There were many magical moments that night, but the top two include my dance with Scott to“ One Moment in Time ” and the time when the two grooms, basking in the overwhelming outpouring of love, joined the band on the stage. They sang and danced to their favorite songs with the exuberance of two men who had pulled out all the stops, worked tirelessly to set exceptional examples for future same-‐sex couples, and realized that, indeed, they did! They showed everybody, including themselves, that they were worthy of the opportunity to marry as any other couple.
All of the speeches and the best man’s video expressed the sentiment of the night: you are loved; you are valued; you are respected; and you are celebrated! I believe that everybody in attendance not only approved, but were unreservedly rooting for their happiness.
One person who couldn’t be there was my husband, Irv, a very loving and supportive husband and dad who died in 2003. Without question, I know that he would have approved. In fact, I think he and my father “upstairs” pulled a few strings to make this wedding possible. I know he would have echoed my words: “Be good to each other, be strong for each other, and confidently live the life that fulfills you and makes you healthy and happy.” For he, too, shared my dream. He would have been extremely proud of what Scott and David had the patience, perseverance, commitment, and courage to accomplish. They proved they had the power to make their dreams come true, and when they did, they made our dream come true, too.